human perception of mathematical beauty

” Semir Zeki and colleagues recruited 16 mathematicians at the postgraduate or postdoctoral level as well as 12 non-mathematicians. All participants viewed a series of mathematical equations in the fMRI scanner and were asked to rate the beauty of the equations as well as their understanding of each equation. After they were out of the scanner, they filled out a questionnaire in which they reported their level of understanding of each equation as well as their emotional experience viewing the equations.

This equation was most consistently rated as beautiful (Leonhard Euler’s identity):

e^{i \pi} + 1 = 0″

“If the experience of mathematical beauty is not necessarily related to understanding the equations, what is the source of mathematical beauty?

The researchers suggest that “there is an abstract quality to beauty that is independent of culture and learning.” They surmise that the non-mathematicians assessed beauty– not based on cognitive understanding– but based on formal qualities of the equations, such as the physical forms, symmetrical distribution, etc.

But the researchers go even further and suggest that beauty may be a pointer to what is true in nature.”


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